HC Deb 25 March 2003 vol 402 cc150-2
7. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

What recent discussions he has had with his French, German and Spanish counterparts on the Convention on the Future of Europe. [104465]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

We submitted a joint paper with Spain on 28 February to the Convention. The Government continue to work closely with their European partners, including France, Germany and Spain, on the Convention on the Future of Europe on a wide range of issues.

Mr. Bryant

My hon. Friend knows that, notwithstanding the debacle over the French use of the veto last week, many of us hope that there will be a significant rapprochement with France in the coming months, especially if we are to achieve outcomes in the Convention. However, will he put paid to one French idea that appears to be burbling around in the mind of the President of the Convention, namely that the preamble to the constitution should explicitly refer to Christian heritage in Europe? Surely that would be profoundly unhelpful at this time.

Mr. MacShane

My hon. Friend, with his background in holy orders, is right to ask the question. Let us render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing has raised the possibility of a reference to religion in the preamble, but that does not reflect the French Government's view. My hon. Friend knows that their views on such matters are secular. Although we acknowledge the enormous contribution of Christian, Jewish, Moorish and Muslim heritage to our common Europe, the Government do not believe that it would be appropriate in a multi-religious, multicultural. Europe to include a specific reference to one faith in the constitution of the Convention.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

The Minister will know that the latest tranche of draft articles includes provision for a European public prosecutor. As the Government are apparently opposed to that, but have been very weak and timid in making their objections clear so far in the Convention, will they on this occasion make clear beyond doubt to the Convention and to other member states that we will not accept a treaty containing provision for a European public prosecutor? If the Minister is clear now, that will avoid tears later. Will he begin to stand up for British interests, and make clear that the Government have bottom lines that we will not cross?

Mr. MacShane

That has been clear for a number of years—and I was not aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Peter Haul) was a weak and timid person.

I cannot speak for myself in this matter, but the Government's view is plain, and is shared by a number of other Governments. We believe that the establishment of a European public prosecutor as such is not the right way forward. We must, however, find serious mechanisms for the combating of European fraud, and for combating trans-frontier crime. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will turn his mind to that, as one of our parliamentary representatives on the Convention.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is now a need for a European constitution, and also a need for a clear statement of the European Union's objectives in a form that people can understand?

Mr. MacShane

My hon. Friend is right. I recommend an excellent article in The Economist entitled "The European Constitution" and penned by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Given that the impetus for the Convention was, to a great extent, the enlargement process, does the Minister agree that the accession states should have not just full rights of participation at the Convention and the intergovernmental conference, but full and equal voting rights at the IGC? Would that not reassure those countries greatly, especially after the hollowness of a common European foreign policy has been made so obvious by the disgraceful and patronising attack on them by President Chirac?

Mr. MacShane

As so often, the hon. Gentleman spoilt a good first point by including yesterday's insults in his closing remarks. It was clear from the treaty of Nice that the new European Union member states would play a full and a voting part in the IGC.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East)

Does my hon. Friend feel able to say that the extent of agreement in the European Council on the appropriate role of the United Nations in post-conflict Iraq and the middle east peace process, as well as the shared commitment to Macedonia, point encouragingly to the healing of the diplomatic wounds in Europe and the possibility of creating a European common foreign and security policy? Does he agree, however, that it would not be appropriate now or in the foreseeable future for such a policy to be subject to qualified majority voting or the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, as the new EU draft constitution appears to propose?

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Come back to us!

Mr. MacShane

My right hon. Friend—whose contribution from the Labour Benches we welcome—makes a good point. I cannot see how foreign policy issues can be linked with the European Court of Justice, and I think that foreign policy will remain principally intergovernmental. I think, however, that in the new European Union of 25 states those that wanted a robust line to be taken on Saddam Hussein would have enjoyed a comfortable majority.